23 Feb 2022
Thanks to Alicia Coad of Independent Schools Portal for this guest blog - if you'd like to hire her as a mystery shopper you can email her by clicking here, or download an information sheet here.

1. Why mystery shop?

There are usually two key reasons why schools conduct a mystery shop of their admissions process. The first is to enable the school to gain external evidence to support their plans, for example, an external voice reporting back that the waiting room was shabby or it was difficult to book a visit. This external impartial evidence can provide the catalyst to change.

The other reason is best practice. All areas of a school are constantly evaluated, from the quality of teaching, standard of food, appearance of the grounds and so on. Evaluating the prospective parent experience internally is practically impossible as it is not an authentic situation. Equally gaining feedback from non-joiner families is very difficult, so the best way to gain independent impartial insight is via a mystery shop.

2. Who do you tell about the shop?

Often schools choose to keep the fact the school is being mystery shopped a secret. This can be to
relieve stress on those who may worry if they know such a process is happening and to stop them
guessing who the visitor is. However telling your staff that you are having a mystery shop can be
beneficial. It is a strong signal to all staff that the school tour process is important, and thus promotes the concept that recruitment of pupils is important to the school and at the heart of its success. A great way to start building a marketing and recruitment culture amongst staff.

3. What parent profile should the mystery shopper have?

It is important that the profile of the mystery shopper fits that of the school. As this is a review of the
actual admissions process, the mystery shopper must fit a demographic of parents that you are already successfully bringing into the building. If you are receiving no enquiries of a certain type of target family the work needs to be done on marketing your school to get them through the door. The first step is attracting them, the second is converting them on the visits.

4. What should a mystery shop of a school cover?

The mystery shopper should mirror the behaviour of a typical parent. The shop should therefore cover typical parental research, e.g. looking on social media, the school website and searching via google. It should also include details of the booking process for a tour, in order that this can be evaluated. The tour process itself needs to be looking at key areas such as:
  • Who the parent meets
  • How personalised it is to their requirements
  • How long it takes
  • Rating of the facilities and overall impression.

Monitoring any follow up after the tour also needs to be part of the process.